back to article Apple: Don't close MacBooks with a webcam cover on, you might damage the display

If you've ever been to a tech trade show, chances are you willingly exchanged personal details for a webcam cover. The plastic strips are loved by cheapskate vendors everywhere, but a new advisory from Apple warns against leaving them attached while closing your MacBook lest it utterly bugger your display. "If you close your …

  1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

    > Instead, Cupertino advises users to rely on the built-in features of macOS, such as limiting what applications have access to the webcam through System Preferences. It also suggests users keep an eye out for the green camera indicator light.

    Concern about those things not being trustworthy/reliable is exactly why covers exist. Most RAT's include functionality to do it, and "oh it only affects Windows" isn't exactly a reliable risk-assessment, particularly when there are RATs for most platforms. Yes, Apple has mitigations in place, but the way you find out they aren't enough is retrospectively...

    What Apple _should_ do, is design a sliding cover into future models

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Next Mac OS update: removal of the green light so that you can not watch us watching you to help make our displays even thinner.

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge
        Joke

        We've found through focus groups that people prefer these $100 bluetooth webcam lights that come in a snazzy case to charge them, so we think embedded LEDs are a thing of the past

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Well, some w*nkers have already decided that it's a good idea to leave off link and data lights from USB-C network adaptors. The simplest, cheapest bit of cable diagnostics, and they leave it out for no reason I can discern - you now have to pay attention when you're ordering gear or you'll end up with one without those vital LEDs. Grrr.

        Anyway, coffee :)

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          a good idea to leave off link and data lights from USB-C network adaptors

          Well - it probably saved 30p off the BOM so that's an extra 30p profit per unit..

    2. Zarno Bronze badge

      "What Apple _should_ do, is design a sliding cover into future models"

      Agreed. If Dell can put in a sliding shutter and get it right on their newer laptops, then Apple should be able to as well.

      From a quick search of the tuberwebs, "...the new MacBook Pro's multi-channel ambient light sensor is located next to the built-in FaceTime HD camera...", so it looks like it's either actually that close, hiding in the same few mm of the camera for "aesthetics", or maybe it's actually using the camera itself.

      1. Zarno Bronze badge
        Devil

        Ok, why the downvote? Did I use a contraction wrong, or was it my lack of citing the source?

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Who cares? If you're worried about the downvotes on El Reg, you're in the wrong place!

          1. Zarno Bronze badge
            Pint

            I'm not worried about getting it, I just would like to know the reason for it.

            I knew the reasons when I threw my hat into the pineapple pizza discussion a few weeks back, but this one makes me wonder...

            Beer, because it sure feels like 5:00, and yet I can't have one till then.

            1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              If you're watch isn't telling the right time, then it's time to take a hammer to it! It's always beer time!

            2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
              Holmes

              It's an apple article and you praised Dell.

              Plus, some people have nothing better to do than carpet-bomb the downvote button.

            3. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

              I just would like to know the reason for it

              For every action there is always an equal and opposite critic.

              It's an Apple article and you praised Dell.

              Exactly.

            4. werdsmith Silver badge

              The reason is that the emotionally immature can feel they have a bit a power by clicking a downvote.

              Downvotes always welcome here, I already have many thousands, fill your boots.

    3. hmv Silver badge

      "What Apple _should_ do, is design a sliding cover into future models"

      Or at the very least carve out enough space on the front edge of the case so that it doesn't cause damage.

      Not that I use those covers myself - if you find anything more interesting on my webcams than a fat old geek staring myopically at the laptop screen, please let me know!

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        "Or at the very least carve out enough space on the front edge of the case so that it doesn't cause damage."

        There isn't space at the front edge of the case, they use that space, very effectively, for a decent sized trackpad.

        I've used a section of a post it note for a very long time, it's very thin, very effective, incredibly cheap, available at all good offices...

        And it you aren't enabling the webcam frequently then it lasts for ages as well.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          My Mac is nearly permanently closed because it's connected to an external screen. Notebooks are not ideal on desks at the best of times, but Macs are some of the worst because of the sharp edges and limited tilt the screen. A mate of mine has some kind of portable "music stand" for using his on a desk when travelling.

      2. vogon00

        Well said, sir.

        Same myopic and excess lard* issues here:-)

        *Reducing thanks to new-ish pushbike...don't panic folks - short journeys only, generally to the office/bottle-o/package store.

      3. Peter X

        You're not thinking different enough... behold, the Apple Balaclava!

        (...ponders for a few moments... )

        Scratch that. What would Steve do? Yes, an Apple Turtleneck... but with an extra long neck that you can roll up to hide your face.

        I should work in marketing! :D

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: "fat old geek"

        you look ok to me

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "What Apple _should_ do, is design a sliding cover into future models"

      And then sue Dell and Lenovo for patent infringement? It might just work!!!

    5. NoneSuch Silver badge
      Devil

      "Instead, Cupertino advises users to rely on the built-in features of macOS, such as limiting what applications have access to the webcam through System Preferences. It also suggests users keep an eye out for the green camera indicator light."

      Strip of black electrical tape does wonders. Of course, not buying it in the first place saves you all sorts of tears.

      1. oiseau Silver badge
        Pint

        ... not buying it in the first place saves you all sorts of tears.

        Finally !!!

        Have one on me --->

        Yes, you can have it now.

        Even if it is not pub-o'clock yet.

        O.

    6. Len Silver badge
      Holmes

      Most RAT's include functionality to do it

      All Macs introduced after 2008 have the LED hardwired to the power lead to the camera module. There is no separate logic between the two any more.

      That's why that famous research from the Johns Hopkins University from 2013 (AKA iSeeYou) only managed to enable the camera without enabling the LED on models up to 2008. It's also why RATs and similar malware that target the Mac warn you that the light will come on when you turn on your victim's camera.

      I have been fascinated by this topic for years (even though I don't work in cybersecurity any more) so if you have evidence that it can still work on newer models or that there are RATs out there that can do this I would be very interested to know more about it.

      1. Christopher Michaelis

        Flicker

        Another approach to avoiding the green light is rather than filming, you take a still every 30 seconds or so. Just enough to make the green light flicker - and if your laptop is off to the side like mine, you'd never notice. Not sure if that concept has ever been used in the wild, but seems feasible.

        1. Len Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Flicker

          Good point, I just tried with a few apps to see how quickly I could toggle the camera. Not quick enough so I'd probably need to experiment with building my own app to talk directly to the camera. As is typical for LEDs, the switch time is milliseconds so you might not notice.

          This could be something that's relatively easy for Apple to reduce the risk of. If they put a simple capacitator between the power line and the LED, the light would probably stay on for a few seconds after the camera has switched off. Just two seconds would be long enough to make surreptitious attempts at taking many quick photos in succession very noticeable as the LED would be permanently on.

        2. s2bu

          Re: Flicker

          Nope, according to the designer, the LED stays on for 3 seconds after the camera is turned off purposely to defeat this kind of attack.

          1. Julz Silver badge

            Re: Flicker

            No it doesn't. Just tried it by killing photo booth and the led went out straight away. Certainly didn't linger for 3 seconds. System is an iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011).

    7. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge
      Joke

      @Tim Cook, I've got a brilliant idea!

      What Apple _should_ do, is design a sliding cover into future models

      I've got a brilliant idea: Apple should release a "cover" that is 0.05 mm thick.

      And here's the kicker: Retail for $10 $20 $350.

  2. AMBxx Silver badge
    Boffin

    0.1mm

    There's something very impressive about reliably working with such tight build tolerances.

    My Land Rover Defender has build tolerances of closer to 0.1m!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 0.1mm

      Critical bits of your LRD are built to tolerances probably better than 1/50mm. Things like big end bearings.

      The problem here is not the tolerance,it's that in pursuit of thinness, the gap has been made too small to deal with even fair sized grit particles. The tolerance on the gap doesn't matter, unless of course the individual tolerances add up to a negative gap.

      1. DS999

        Re: 0.1mm

        If I have grit 'fair sized' enough to cause a problem for a 0.1mm gap I would rather have my laptop fail to close all the way so I know it is there and can remove it rather than have it doing damage or getting permanently stuck down inside the keyboard mechanism somewhere.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 0.1mm

          When you've seen what happens when a sales guy shuts his laptop having left his pen on the keyboard, you may realise that DS999 is not typical of laptop users.

    2. RichardBarrell

      Re: 0.1mm

      Bet your Land Rover Defender doesn't break if someone puts 0.2mm of plastic over a random point on the dash. :)

      I'm also willing to bet your LRD has tolerances in micrometers in a few places like e.g. the pistons. :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 0.1mm

        Genuine question - who is right? 0.1mm is 4/1000 of an inch. How many parts on an old Land Rover are really toleranced better than that? You mentioned the pistons, but after a few decades of wear, are they still toleranced to better than 4/1000?

        Most engineering from the Fifties had quite loose tolerances as that was the best that the machine-tools of the day could do. Land Rovers certainly date from this time, so the number of parts that really need tolerances better than 1/1000 (the "few microns" mentioned by another commentator) might be rather small.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 0.1mm

          Not according to my 1940s copy of Machinery's Handbook (which is still useful if you ever see old stuff).

          Pistons perhaps only 0.002" on the ring lands, but big ends and main bearings need to be toleranced to around 0.001". A number of parts such as keyways and gears are toleranced +0 -0.001".

          A lot of parts in those days were finished very accurately with either reamers or centreless grinders, with the machine tools used for the relatively rough cuts.

          Remember that in WW2 things like the Merlin engine were produced in what we would now consider car levels of production, and precision advanced rapidly.

          1. Eclectic Man

            Re: 0.1mm

            "Toleranced", past of 'to tolerance' or create something within a specified measurement range.

            Reminds me of those little nuggets of wisdom one got logging on or off a Sun Microsystems workstation*.

            "In English any word can be verbed, would that it were so in our programming languages."

            (*Yes, I know I'm showing my age, but then you've made an old-ish man tolerably** happy.)

            (** Did you see what I did there? 'Toleranced' and 'tolerably', ...? Oh never mind. You young folks suck the fun out of everything.

            Nurse! Where's my medication?)

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: 0.1mm

          Most engineering from the Fifties had quite loose tolerances

          Like the car that I can see if I raise my head and look out the lounge window.. (1966 Morris Minor 1000). Although it does have some more modern bits (front and rear heated screen, disk brakes at the front et. al) most of it is pretty original (still the original engine - it's done 120K miles since 1966. We had to replace the cylinder head after of of the exhaust valves rapidly disassembled itself. It's not converted for unleaded - we use an in-line unit so that the fuel flows over a tin catalyst and picks up tin as an anti-knock additive - entirely appropriate as one of my wife's ancestors was the captain of a tin mine in Cornwall)

      2. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: 0.1mm

        "Bet your Land Rover Defender doesn't break if someone puts 0.2mm of plastic over a random point on the dash."

        Maybe if that random point on the dash happens to be over the oil indicator light :)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 0.1mm

        I don't think I'd ever be confident enough to start a sentence with "Bet your Land Rover Defender doesn't break if...", a Defender can break if you try to drive it on a day that ends in th eletter 'Y'. That's the fun of them - learning how to fix anything on it when it breaks (usually in a marsh somewhere).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 0.1mm

      "My Land Rover Defender has build tolerances of closer to 0.1m!"

      You meant inches, Shirley?

      90.

      110.

      These are inches.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: 0.1mm

        It's even worse - mixture of imperial and metric fittings.

        The new Defender is still called 90 and 110, but nothing to do with the length. Now it's all just marketing.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 0.1mm

          >but nothing to do with the length.

          80/90/110/130 refers to wheelbase, not length.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: 0.1mm

            The length of the wheelbase not the base of the wheel .... ;)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Trollface

              Re: 0.1mm

              So SWB and LWB refer to ... ?

        2. legless82

          Re: 0.1mm

          The original Defender 90 didn't have a 90 inch wheelbase either - it was closer to 93", but in Land Rover manufacturing tolerances, that's probably close enough.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Coat

            Re: 0.1mm

            >The original Defender 90

            The original was an SWB or 90 LandRover.

            "Defender" is a modern affectation.

    4. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: 0.1mm

      LR are legendary for it. I had my MGB in a bodyshop once, where it was complimented on its panel gaps.

      Also in was a Range Rover. They'd had to get the insurance assessor in before they started work, so they'd have an independant witness to how abysmally shite the panel gaps were before they touched it.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: 0.1mm

        This thread has reminded me of a joke I heard years ago.

        Quality assessment engineers from Land Rover and Mercedes met at a conference, and were comparing notes. Specifically, on how they assessed the fit and seal of door/window trims.

        "What we do," said the Mercedes guy, "is we take a car off the end of the production line and shut a cat in it on a Monday evening, with all the windows closed. If the cat has suffocated when we check on it Tuesday morning, the seals on our design are performing to specification and the car is worthy of our reputation."

        "That's uncanny!" blurted his LR counterpart, "We have something so similar! We take a Discovery off the end of the line and shut a cat in it, and the car is good to go if the cat hasn't escaped by the morning..."

    5. Olafthemighty

      Re: 0.1mm

      You got one of the good ones then!

    6. Jurassic Hermit
      FAIL

      Re: 0.1mm

      Bollox to Apple, they were in recent consideration for a professional device, but then I discovered that "Pro" is no longer a range for people who work for living, merely a wannabee label for label-conscious, vacuous consumers.

      So I decided to buy a tough but lite and very powerful Thinkpad and which coincidentally comes with an in-built sliding webcam shutter called the ThinkShutter.

      Apple are in danger of becoming irrelevant to the professional user if they carry on at this rate.

    7. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: 0.1mm

      My Land Rover Defender has build tolerances of closer to 0.1m!

      Wow - you managed to get one of the precision-build ones!

      (One of my brothers has had a few lanies - I think none of them came anywhere near that tolerance..)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's wrong with a bit of electrical tape?

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Electrical tape is for wimps. Real men use gaffer tape.

      Though to be fair, it can sometimes leave a residue...

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        I have a colleague who is also in a band, he re-uses his gaffer tape when possible!

      2. katrinab Silver badge

        I use post-it notes.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      The adhesive.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Real hackers

      Real hackers use duct tape. But given Apple's designs, Apple engineers will probably find a way to destroy half the universe should a piece of duct tape ever get within 6 cm of a Macbook.

  4. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Vinyl overlays.

    I've seen various people selling vinyl overlays for MacBook keyboards and touchpads - some just to make it look pretty, some with the keyboard commands for things like Photoshop.

    That's got to bugger up the 0.1mm tolerance!

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Vinyl overlays.

      You are correct! Give that man a cigar! I see knock on issues with these keyboard condoms... That eats up the tolerance, and keeps the lid from closing properly, and the computer doesn't sleep, then the battery tends to go next...

      My ankle hurts when I walk, but if I limp slightly, then my ankle doesn't hurt so much, but then my knee hurts etc...

    2. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Vinyl overlays.

      Just guessing here that the overlays are:

      A - Softer because they're designed to be flexible enough not to press several keys at a time, and;

      B - Spreading any pressure over a wider area than a half-inch piece of hard plastic that sits right at the edge of a thin sheet of glass.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Vinyl overlays.

        I forgot all hand moisture, hand moisturizer, and other junk caught under them. Bad for keyboard\top cases.

  5. G R Goslin

    Tolerance?

    Everyone seems to be confusing tolerance with fit. Toleance is a measure of how much (notionally), an object may depart from its designed dimension. It is an allowance, not a physical thing. A fit, on the other hand is a physical relationship between two parts. It can be a clearance fit, or an interferance fit. A clearnce if you want a gap and an interferance were you want an intimate relationship. A nail driven into a piece of wood is an interference fit. A bolt in a hole is a clearance fit. between a screen and a case, you hope for an adequate clearnce fit. The tolerance on each part determines which of the two states, it is

    1. oiseau Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Tolerance?

      Everyone seems to be confusing tolerance with fit.

      Good man!

      Was about to post the very same comment.

      Have one on me too --->

      Of course, you can also have it now.

      O.

    2. vogon00

      Re: Tolerance?

      Seconded. Was just about to say similar, but took the unusual step of reading all posts first!

      IMO, one designs using tolerances that produce the required fit, not the other way around....that's just bodgery.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Tolerance?

        Pick up a electronic gizmo from twenty years ago, such as a radio, Minidisk player, camera, or Walkman - you will see that many of them will have a 1mm (or so) split line running between the parts of the casing. This wasn't 1mm because they couldn't make the gap smaller, but because the closer two faces are then the easier it is for us human to spot if they are not perfectly aligned. If you know your casting or stamping process is not capable of (or too costly to fine tune, or to bin the parts) producing parts within a very small tolerance, then an 'honest gap' often looks better than 'nearly but not quite touching'

  6. Empire of the Pussycat

    If the tolerance on Macbok Pro body-screen distance is within 0.1mm, it's clear from mine that either the manufacturing isn't living up to that, or they've deliberately designed it so that the screen touches the keytips.

    1. Solviva

      The screen doesn't touch the keys, if lying perfectly flat and not moving. In the real world the infinitesimally small gap between the closed display and keys means any slight flexing of the display (say when being transported) when closed leads an imprint of the keys on the screen.

  7. Pennsyjohn

    Interesting note

    Apple used to send brown plastic tape to close the box of parts being returned. They work extremely well for covering the camera. Free, and always extra strips in the box. Used them in multiple customers who had a "security" problem in their workplace. As above, I don't know an app to turn on the camera remotely (probably because I haven't looked.

  8. SuperGeek

    Disable camera in BIOS....oh...wait!

    You can't do that in a Mac! Most normal laptops let you disable the camera in BIOS (my two Dells do), and the hacks don't work as the OS never sees the hardware.

    No cover needed, and the mic still works when I unmute it.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So now Apple is saying...

    "You're closing it wrong" ?

  10. Nifty Bronze badge

    Oops

    Winston Smith's attempt to find that one simple trick to avoid the telescreens camera, has just been rumbled.

  11. razorfishsl Silver badge

    Apple should just F*** off with their bullshit.

    even without a cover ALL macbooks since 2010 DAMAGE the display with their keyboards....

    becasue some dumb shit did not take into account manufacturing tolerance.

    Open any mac Book & look at 45 Deg. to the screen and you will see a complete KB scratched into the display coating...

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      mac Book & look at 45 Deg. to the screen and you will see a complete KB scratched into the display coating

      Not on the two I'm currently looking at. But then, I look after my kit (I've got a drawer-full of old mobiles, most of them in pristine condition)

  12. silks

    Post-It Note

    A cut-out Post-It note is all that's required to block camera access, that should't break the display and costs almost nothing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Post-It Note

      .. as long as nobody tries to write on it when it's in that place.

      Yes, it sounds silly, but if you're dealing with end users ..

  13. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Simple solution..

    Download Oversight as an extra safety layer and be done with it.

    Anything else I can help with?

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